I had the opportunity today to attend some sessions that are part of the Creating Change Conference. I learned a lot of valuable information through these sessions, but one of the biggest take-aways was regarding creating comfortable spaces for people to interact within.
One of the sessions was given by two people who are deaf. They used ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with the audience and interpreters acted as their voice to those who do not know ASL.
We did an exercise where we moved into a form of circle and then placed a rope on the floor that allowed us all to step inside or outside of the rope formed circle.
Individuals took turns making a statement and then everyone would take a second to digest what was said and then stay in the circle if it was a comfortable thought, or leave the circle if it was uncomfortable.
The purpose was to highlight how for those that are already inside of the circle, everything is positive and there’s little confusion as to why someone is inside the circle.
For those outside, it is less clear why those are outside as there are many subconscious reasons that certain situations make people uncomfortable. Beyond this, the exercise invoked a certain ‘you are on the outside looking in’ thought process that made it easier to understand the following information from the presentation.
We then discussed the various things that those that can hear take for granted and are (for the most part) comfortable situations.
For instance, as someone that is not deaf, I see a movie poster and I comfortably say ‘yes, I want to see that’. For someone who is deaf, they may be uncomfortable and wonder if the movie has closed captioning, or if the theater would provide an interpreter. Beyond this, if the theater doesn’t offer one, could the person pay for one?
Suddenly, something as comfortable as deciding to go to see a movie can evolve into a rather uncomfortable experience.
Beyond this, for someone who is deaf, they may be out and about with friends, and due to lighting cannot read lips / easily understand what is going on. They miss audible cues around them and might be told ‘nothing important was said’, further making things uncomfortable as the deaf person becomes secluded from conversation.
There were a few other scenarios, but effectively, the purpose was to get those in attendance to empathize with those who are on the outside, who are uncomfortable, and learn some ways to try and make them comfortable.
For non-profits throwing events, this may mean providing interpreters upon request, or filming them alongside the actual event.
Another thing I learned is how for many deaf people, English is actually the second language. Those who are deaf rely on an augmented visual form of communication (such as ASL) and many were born deaf. The constructs that we learn by speaking a word out loud while reading it are completely foreign for some who are deaf. In this sense, recording an interpreter during an event and offering the ‘signed’ version of the event for playback would be kind and make things a bit more comfortable for deaf individuals.
One of the final talking points was regarding the use of a new term:
Essentially, the idea is to reduce the negativity surrounding someone who has ‘lost hearing’. This is a perspective shift to make the world a more comfortable place for those who are deaf and hopefully lead to a more empathetic society as a whole.
Throughout all of the sessions I went to, they all were handled really well and it seems like making people comfortable, creating a safe space for people to really be engaged and not keep their defenses so high as to hinder communication.
We should all strive to make sure that when we engage with others, we are doing what we can to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable as that will permit more effective communication and move everyone towards a better future